Sunday, June 01, 2008

'Justified by Faith': Rules or Relationship? (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, Moses talked about keeping the commandments.
In the Gospel, the Lord himself said the same.
But in the middle, Saint Paul said,
we are “justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

So which is it: are we saved by “faith alone”—or is it “faith and works?”
Another way to put it is, is it about “rules”—or about “relationship”?

The answer is—and this is what Paul means by faith—
is that it starts with relationship—and the “rules” flow out of that.

When Paul talks about “works of the law,”
he means specifically religious observances—
for Jews like Paul, things like what you eat;
for us, things like no meat on Friday or Sunday Mass.

Does that mean we don’t have to come to Sunday Mass?
No; but without the relationship, the “rules” by themselves won’t save you.
Recall what we just heard Jesus say: “Depart from me: I never knew you.”

Here we can appreciate the great treasure we have in our Catholic Faith:
All the ways God comes so close to us!

Long ago, God made told Moses about himself,
And through signs and wonders,
he led the people from slavery to a relationship with him.

But God has gone so much further!
When the time was right,
through an angel, he came to Mary, and said,
will you allow me to be conceived in you?
Mary—who gives us a perfect example of faith—
had as intimate relationship with God as anyone can.
With her “yes” she gave everything to God
and God came into her in the fullest way possible!

There’s a social dimension here as well.
If we understand “faith” too narrowly,
then it’s just about me and my choices.
As Americans, we’re all about individualism,
and we chafe when we’re held accountable.

In Kansas, the bishop said to the governor:
you reject Church teaching on protecting the unborn;
you can’t come to communion.
People are outraged—who is he to say that?
The answer is, the father of the family.
We’re in a relationship with each other.

Another way our Faith challenges us
is to keep expanding who is included in that family.
How do we welcome others?
How actively do we share the Gift of Faith?
Who do we mean by “we”—“us”?

Our children and teachers in Piqua Catholic
decided the “we” included a village in Haiti.
They raised over $11,000—
and some of our adults will go to Haiti to build a house.

When we realize faith is a relationship,
it gives new light to what the sacraments are about.
They aren’t about checking a box or doing the minimum;
the sacraments can only give us life if we have a relationship with Jesus.

When parents bring a baby for baptism,
The priest asks, will you teach her to know and follow Jesus?

That’s why the sacrament of confession is so useful and necessary—
a real relationship only works if we can admit wrong,
and seek reconciliation, or it won’t last.
In a marriage, if this doesn’t happen, what becomes of the intimacy?
It becomes phony and forced, and ultimately dies.

The Eucharist is essentially the same.
We call it “communion”

because it’s a “becoming one” with God, and one another
almost exactly parallel to the way a couple becomes one:
in the choices they make, in dying to self,
in their moral and physical union.

Jesus said it: a fool builds his house on sand:
“I followed the rules.”
But he invites us to build our house on the Rock:
“Let Me live in you, and you will live in Me.”

2 comments:

Esther said...

This is an excellent homily Father. You made it clear what St. Paul meant in a scripture passage that is often misinterpreted. BTW, I am impressed by the Christian love shown in your parish community.

Anonymous said...

Father,
That is a wonderful homily! Thank you.